In 2011, Brett Emmons was in Halifax, trying to make it on his own as a musician, when his older brother Jay suggested he head home to Kingston, Ontario, to join his new band. When he did, Emmons was impressed by what he heard. “They’d only been jamming for a year,” he recalls with a laugh, “and there was room for improvement, but I knew they had a certain thing.”

In the years since, The Glorious Sons have seen their songs top the rock charts in both Canada and the United States. They’ve amassed an ardent fan base, and have played massive shows, including opening for The Rolling Stones and Twenty-One Pilots as part of a U.S. tour with The Struts. Their second studio album, Young Beauties and Fools, won the JUNO for Rock Album of the Year in 2018, and their third, 2019’s A War On Everything, was named one of Classic Rock UK’s Albums of the Year. The band celebrated the release of that album with a two-and-a-half-hour-long stadium show for a hometown crowd of 14,000 fans.

For many, it’s Brett Emmons’s raw, heartfelt lyrics that really resonate. “I try not to write about anything that I don’t know,” he explains. “We’re all connected as human beings, and whether you’re living in a mansion on a hill, or in a neighbourhood that might not be as safe and happy – it all ripples out. I don’t think anyone is safe from the things I [write] about – things like drug addiction, anxiety, depression, or money problems.”

Though he was drawn to songwriting at a young age, Emmons says it was artists like Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, and The Killers, among others, who showed him the power of telling stories with song. “I was about 15 or 16 years old,” he says, “and my whole world got blown open to what rock ‘n’ roll could actually be. I realized it didn’t have to be Led Zeppelin or AC/DC. It wasn’t all power chords or aggressive songs. It could also be emotive stories with an acoustic guitar.”

“We have five writers in our band” – Brett Emmons of Glorious Sons

He then began experimenting with writing his own melodies, inverting the chords he learned from his guitar teacher and turning them into original songs. “It was a gigantic cerebral phase in my life that I think… basically hasn’t stopped.”

As the band’s dynamic and performative frontman, Emmons handles the bulk of the initial songwriting by coming up with lyrics, chords, or verses, and then takes that material back to his bandmates, Chris Koster, Adam Paquette, Chris Huot and his brother Jay, for their feedback.

Sons’ Singles: No. 1s and 2s at Canadian Rock Radio

  • “Kingdom in my Heart”
  • “Panic Attack”
  • “S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun)”
  • “Josie”
  • “Everything Is Alright”

“Because we have five writers in our band,” Emmons adds, without hesitating. “A lot of the time I might come up with the theme and the melody, but one little tweak [from someone else] blows it wide open.” He stresses that nobody is limited to writing parts for their own instruments. “The people in the band are much more than the instruments they play,” he says. “For our band, it’s a very important factor when it comes to songwriting.”

When the band’s 80-day North American tour was cancelled due to COVID-19, Emmons saw an opportunity to take a break and focus on rest and writing. “I love to sit in one place and play guitar, drink beer, drink coffee, and write songs,” he laughs.

Emmons feels confident that he already has an album’s worth of material written, and anticipates that he may well have more by the time The Glorious Sons are allowed to fill stadiums again. For now, he’s grateful to get to make music for a living, and for the chances it provides for him to connect with people.

“Looking out and seeing the whole crowd singing your song,” he says, “that’ll make the hair stand up on your arms, for sure.”



Remote self-isolation gives rise to out-of-the-ordinary initiatives. Montréal-based quartet TOPS was recently invited to record a performance for the CBC – on Zoom, not live, and remotely. Three of the four band members were in Montréal, while drummer Riley Fleck, the only American member, was three hours apart – having sought refuge in California during the sanitary crisis. “We each recorded our track separately, and everything was put together afterward,” says Jane Penny, the main singer-songwriter of the dream-pop outfit, which recently released I Feel Alive, its fourth album.

TOPS, Penny Jane, Shelby Fenlon Remote self-isolation, without being able to play before an audience, also makes musicians restless. I Feel Alive might still be hot off the presses, but TOPS has nonetheless forged ahead and released a brand new two-song recording, both of them not on the album: “Anything,” and the gorgeous and languid “Hollow Sounds Of The Morning Chimes,” two that feel like they were inspired by Québec’s first heatwave of the season, which came unusually early last May. “Under the circumstances, making music has become a refuge for us,” she says.

The apparent looseness of those new songs contrasts with the polished aesthetics of I Feel Alive, a record whose every minute detail – a word sung at just the right time, or a heavily researched synth sound – was finely crafted. I Feel Alive is a vibrant, lively offering where the quartet continues its mission to re-invent the pop sounds of 35 years ago.

“When we started in the early 2010s, a lot of people of that generation were skeptical of our sound,” says Penny. Such is the lot of “comebacks”: those who were there – and repulsed – the first time around, in this case, by ‘80s soft-rock, are weary of it. Yet to the new generation, it’s just another musical territory worth exploring.

“I believe we’re part of this first wave of musicians who recycle musical styles that have been ‘commercialized,’ and irked people back in their day,” says Jane laughing. “I think the internet is at the root of this movement, because it gave us access to these musical styles out of their original context. The timeliness of a sound or a musical style suddenly doesn’t matter anymore. It’s the fusion of ‘80s chart-toppers and today’s alt-pop. I find it interesting to recycle the aesthetics of music from another era, and apply them to contemporary creations.”

What makes I Feel Alive – and the rest of TOPS’s intelligently seductive output – so alluring is the fact that it’s entirely devoid of irony in its intent. There’s nothing more here than sincere songs with bubbly choruses, imbued with a little melancholy, and wrapped in old-fashioned guitar and keyboard orchestrations. “I find melancholy to be a more constructive emotion than sadness, because it implies a dose of introspection,” says Penny.

Although she’s is considered the creative force behind TOPS songs, Penny would rather be considered part of a “songwriting duo” alongside her colleague, multi-instrumentalist David Carrière. “David will sometimes write lyrics, but generally, he’ll come up with a hook or a chord progression and we’ll compose around that,” she says. “I have a hard time defining our respective roles and their boundaries when it comes to our work as composers.”

“Consider “Take Down,” for example, a ballad where Jane’s soft vocal timbre oscillates between two sets of textures, which gives the impression she’s having a conversation with herself. “On that one, we all built this groove that inspired me melodies I would hum<” she says. “That was my starting point to write the song itself, the lyrics and melodies I recorded. We’re a band, and sometimes the basic idea, the groove, the atmosphere, will be a collective effort, and that’s what gives me a direction towards a finished song. Other times, David will have a finished song that we then fine-tune together, while other times we write it just him and I. There are no rules: some songs we’ll work on for a year, and others are done in 30 minutes.”

No rules, except one: once a song is finished, it’s submitted to an in-depth analysis. “The goal of that is to make sure that we don’t become complacent and fall into the trap of songs that are nothing but a page out of a diary,” Jane insists. “We want to write songs that have many layers, songs you can listen to over and over again and find new meanings. I think those are the songs that withstand the test of time the best.”

 



“I can only manage artists who truly touch my soul,” says the website of Comme C’est Beau, the small cultural business that Emmanuelle Girard started in March of 2019.

Shortly after showing up for our interview, at her favourite café in Montreal’s Little Italy, Emmanuelle Girard makes one thing clear. “I know my limitations as a human being,” she says. “And right now, with these three women, I’m maxed out. I believe in the art of polishing gemstones.”

She adds, “I know I’m an intense person, and I give everything my best shot, like I did back in the days when I was still an athlete. I’m not a music lover, I’m not that keen on going to see shows. I listen to Chilly Gonzales over and over, to some jazz and blues music in the evening, that’s it.”

Emmanuelle Girard, Alexandra StreliskiThat was before the pandemic. She was planning her trip to Saskatoon, where Alexandra Stréliski was to take part in the 2020 JUNO Awards, thanks to her Secret City Records Inscape release. Three nominations, a live duo with Dallas Green (City and Color) – things were really looking up for this neo-classical pianist, who’s already won three Felix Awards.

“We recently reviewed our situation,” says Girard. “The more creative people are the ones who are going to make it through, [but] you have to be flexible. I haven’t had any dates cancelled so far, but I’m working as hard as ever, and you always have to take the artist’s well-being into account. But I freaked out at first. We’d been in town [Saskatoon] for a few days already, to set up Alex’s performance. We’d chosen her red carpet outfit together, her stage outfit… The greatest asset of someone working in music is the ability to adapt.

“Once the artist becomes successful, you then have to manage demand. In Alex’s case, we’re getting a lot of requests for free music licences from foundations, schools, or young people who are making YouTube videos, and want to use her music. We’re giving out a lot of those.

“As for Beyries, we were planning to release her second album this spring, but she wasn’t ready, and we postponed the whole thing.” But international development is well underway with both Stréliski and Beyries.

Emmanuelle Girard, Maude Audet“Beyries’ song The Pursuit of Happiness [licensed online by Montreal’s Bonsound] reached more than 12 million views on Spotify, and was a hit in Turkey, where it was played in Istanbul in front of an audience of 150 people who knew the lyrics by heart and sang along,” says Girard. And what about the synch rights, that are so essential to music publishers? “That’s what put her on the map!” she says. “Her 2016 cover of Paul Daraîche’s “Je pars à l’autre bout du monde” ended up on the Unité 9 TV series!”

According to Girard, Maude Audet, who released her Tu ne mourras pas album on Grosse Boîte in February, has a very “1970s France, Françoise Hardy-like” musical sound. “My work is very different with her, it’s an all-Francophone project. We have meetings, and afterwards she sends me recaps of our conversations!”

Before launching Beyries’ career in 2015, Girard had been working for the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, among others, before landing a job with the prestigious Cossette advertising agency. “Serving as a management consultant between the client and the creative staff is precisely what I’m doing right now,” she says.

Emmanuelle Girard, BeyriesA former professional handball player with the Canadian team, Girard, now 40, ended her elite athletic career at the age of 28. Taken under her wing by Sonia Cesaratto (who was handling press relations for Universal France at the time) and later by Anacrouse’s Brigitte Matte (who was managing musicians Yann Perrau, Michel Rivard, and Catherine Major), she learned her trade at two excellent schools if life, with two experienced women.

Girard even sought producer Jacques Primeau as a mentor. In spite of his myriad professional commitments (RBO group, the Tout le monde en parle talk show, Quartier des spectacles, artist manager, and now General Manager of L’Équipe Spectra), Primeau immediately saw Girard’s potential, and they began a partnership in the fall of 2019.

“Thanks to him,” Girard explains, “we can apply to SODEC together, since my business is still too young to be eligible for some grants. He helps me find money. But we’re not business partners – I’m my company’s sole shareholder. Les Productions Jacques K. Primeau are providing me with access to his assistant, with whom I speak regularly. Jacques is helping me structure and grow.

“My business model is this: travelling with my artists, seeing what’s happening on the ground, meeting people, getting a better understanding of the music business. I’m a St-Lambert-de-Lévis girl, I come from a modest family, and I’m a proud self-made woman.”